Duct tape has been the answer to every sticky emergency since it was invented. But an interdisciplinary team of researchers may have created some competition for the universal adhesive. Scientists from Lewis & Clark College, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Stanford University have discovered a dry, self-cleaning glue that works under water and in a vacuum. The key to this new super glue? The gecko—one of the stickiest animals in nature. Kellar Autumn, assistant professor at Lewis & Clark's Department of Biology, says the team discovered that the gecko's amazing adhesiveness depends on the size and shape of the tips of its foot hairs—each made up of billions of 200-nm-sized fibers. This geometry "sticks" to whatever the gecko climbs on through weak molecular attractive forces called van der Waals forces. Van der Waals forces occur when two surfaces get very close to each other, and are not affected strongly by the chemical makeup of the materials. "This means we don't need to mimic biology precisely," Autumn says. "We can apply the underlying principles and create a similar adhesive by breaking a surface into small bumps. These preliminary physical models provide proof that humans can fabricate synthetic gecko adhesive." Although the glue is only in the proof of concept stages, Autumn foresees countless applications for synthetic gecko adhesive—from vacuum areas of clean rooms to outer space. He hopes the glue will be on the market within two years or so. For more information, contact Kellar Autumn by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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